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Blaster Master (NES) artwork

Blaster Master (NES) review

"Why did I love this game as a child? For I, like practically everyone else, did enjoy it during the glory days of the NES. And now I sit, an older and wiser person, and I try to remember why it gave me so much joy. I do this because it is no longer enjoyable, because I currently find the game to be, while decent, not all that special. Was it just the cool name? Was it the fact that you were in a cool looking rover that jumped? Was it the multiple styles of play? Perhaps it was a combination of t..."

Why did I love this game as a child? For I, like practically everyone else, did enjoy it during the glory days of the NES. And now I sit, an older and wiser person, and I try to remember why it gave me so much joy. I do this because it is no longer enjoyable, because I currently find the game to be, while decent, not all that special. Was it just the cool name? Was it the fact that you were in a cool looking rover that jumped? Was it the multiple styles of play? Perhaps it was a combination of these, but sadly such a combination cannot hold its own against the flaws and, dare I say it, tedium that Blaster Master has to offer.

It's not that I cannot see the appeal of this game, as said appeal is certainly there. The name itself just jumps out at you, and turning the game on invokes a similar feeling. Everything seems to be in place. You, the hero (searching for your pet frog in a giant cave that lay unknown beneath your house), are equipped with a gun, a grenade launcher, and above all a tank-like thing. This vehicle allows you to race all over the land, firing your mighty cannon and jumping over pits and enemies. You can pick up three different types of auxiliary weapons as well to enhance your offensive power, turning your little tank into a powerhouse. The game proceeds, riding around platformer style in your tank, until you find a doorway too small for your vehicle. You exit your vehicle and enter, suddenly turning to an overhead projection to blast your way to some powerups or the boss. Beat the boss and the path to the next level opens up... if you can find it. Backtrack, hop back into your rover, and search around for more secrets and passageways. Sounds cool, doesn't it?

Indeed, the reasons for the praise this game gets should be quite obvious. You're in a tank that jumps around, for Pete's sake! The tank portion of the game has often been compared with Metroid, what with the large cave-like expanses and emphasis on shooting and exploration. Your rover speeds along at a respectable rate and is surprisingly maneuverable. Unfortunately, control is a bit of an issue here, as your tank has a nasty habit of not stopping when you want it to and inching ever forward, especially after jumping or falling. Oh well, nothing's perfect, right? In any case, the secondary weapons you find are plentiful and, while not terribly exciting, do allow for extra variability in combat. Thus, rolling along, jumping over pits and blasting at enemies, tends to be quite fun, allowing you to forget your objectives and simply enjoy the experience. The objective, of course, is to find all the entrances to the overhead areas, and fortunately finding them is half the fun. Levels tend to be large and a joy to explore, from the wide expanses of the first world to the almost maze-like structure of level 2. Exploring the levels is fun, especially since you know you have an entirely new style of playing once you find these entrances. The greatness of this idea is obvious. Besides the control issue, the game should be a cool, fun experience, and they almost made it. Well, maybe not quite "almost."

You see, the problems start to arrive once you hit the overhead perspective. The first problem will jump out at you as soon as you appear, as you are so freaking huge. The sprite used is monstrous, twice the size of what one would normally consider effective. As a result, it is often difficult to dodge objects, as your speed is comparable to a man half your size and a bit too slow for you to deal with. Staying healthy is even harder with an odd collision detection system. Since this is simulated overhead, the upper torso of your body doesn't get hit usually. On the other hand, I've had enemies or projectiles fly through me in the head, sides, feet, gun, and just about everywhere. This would be nice, except the reciprocal seems to be the case as well; not all of your carefully aimed shots will land. Such a problem is completely unforgivable, and the fact that you can never be sure if you're smacking the enemies or clear of the bullets is completely uncalled for. All I ask for is consistency, but unfortunately the poor collision detection system prevents that. All they had to do for these overhead parts is reverse engineer Zelda, but they failed miserably in that respect.

But wait, the oddities with the overhead perspective continue. Your hero is right-handed, and so naturally that's where his gun is. Not so naturally is the fact that this means you do not exactly aim right in front of you, but more to the right. Pretend there's an enemy hanging out on the wall on your left. No matter how much you try, your gun will not hit him, thanks to this stupid off-center weapon. Speaking of weapons, I didn't care too much for the upgrading system. You can find upgrades to your gun, but sadly some of them are pretty bad. Who wants a gun where the shots veer off every third shot? And although the ultimate upgrade, the wave beam, is nice, it seems to compound the collision detection problem. But still, the oddness continues. The developers had a habit of putting restorative items on an island surrounded by spikes, meaning they do absolutely no good whatsoever. There are some glitches too, as I've gone in an area that's supposed to be brimming with powerups only to find it empty. Speaking of powerups, they are often hidden under boulders that must be destroyed. Not only are there dozens of these boulders in a given room, meaning you're spending a lot of boring time doing nothing but shooting rocks, but they also reappear if you move too far away, meaning you can never be sure you hit all of them if you don't blast them in an orderly fashion. Really, when it comes down to it, the only truly exciting part about the overhead sections are the bosses. They appear with a nice little stylistic flair, causing the screen to flash before going completely black, appearing only in complete darkness. They're generally fun to fight, and offer a nice respite from the pains of this poorly made dungeon crawling.

But if you think about it, it's still not horrible. Yes, the overhead sections are rather bland and filled with minor problems, but one should be able to work one's way through it and still enjoy the game. It hurts the game, but not enough to buck it down as much as I am. So what's the killer? Length. This game is freaking huge. It will take hours to beat it, to work your way through all the levels, find every overhead area, and wind your way to the bosses. And this becomes a problem when you consider that there is absolutely no saving or password system, so you have to do it all in one sitting (assuming you aren't playing on a computer, of course). Yes, hours. And the game, while not impossible, is difficult enough to make those hours extremely frustrating. Yeah, the game can be fun at first, but can you stand sitting there for this long and suffering through the problems so many times just to beat it?

Even worse, the game employs some pretty stupid backtracking. After you finish level 6, you may start to question where you're supposed to go next. The answer is all the way back to level 1 to a previously inaccessible region. This might be ok if you could have seen this new path from the moment you begin the game, so you would have some inkling that you need to return here, but there's absolutely nothing to indicate that a path is there or that you need to go back this far. And this isn't the only event where you have to go way out of the way to an obscure random area just to advance. Trying to beat this game without GameFAQs would be maddening. It all makes me wonder how the game was so popular in the NES era when most people could never finish it (I certainly didn't). Because of the length and the random backtracking, it seem the only way to play this is by playing illegally and cheating in the process. And this is something that should be praised to no end? I don't think so.

Isn't it amazing how so many old games we think were great have serious design flaws in them? We remember Blaster Master to be a game with a lot of fun - mainly because it is. We remember its crazy name and cool tank and blasting away, and we remember the joy of clobbering enemies and finding powerups. But of course we forget that we never finished it, that we could never get past the first few levels. And of course its faults seem to have disappeared into the mists of our memories, the horrible collision detection and boring overworld and control issues with the tank. It seems many people don't mind a few faults in their "classic" games, don't mind putting up with design issues in order to be an old school gamer. But sadly I can't do that. I wanted to have fun with this game and wanted to feel like I did when I was a kid. But the quality just isn't the best, and the good parts don't quite outweigh the bad. I guess I'll stick with the true classics.

mariner's avatar
Community review by mariner (November 07, 2004)

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